Has there ever been a cinematic pairing as eagerly anticipated as this one? Perhaps, but I can’t think of one that has been anticipated as long. Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro were both in 1974’s “The Godfather II” but their storylines encompassed different generations and there was no overlap. They both starred in “Heat” 21 years later, but shared only one scene. A mere 13 years after that, we finally get to see them together at last, starring in “Righteous Kill” as New York City detective partners investigating a serial killer who might be a cop. In real life, we have been waiting for a long time to see them together but in the parallel universe of the movie, DeNiro and Pacino have been partners for three decades and are each other’s closet friends and most respected colleagues. The pleasure of the movie is not in its predictable story but in seeing two of the greatest actors of our time play with and off of each other on screen, especially in the unimportant moments that give you a sense of a lifetime of connection and understanding.
That’s just about the only pleasure, though. The ending is predictable, the progress toward it derived from any of a dozen of interchangeable cop films. DeNiro and Pacino connect and compete, DeNiro cooling down and Pacino heating up. But we’re watching them, not their characters. They get some solid support from John Leguizamo and Donnie Wahlberg as a rival team of younger detectives with some personal and professional gripes, but Brian Dennehy looks worn in the under-written over-used character of the exasperated lieutenant and Carla Gugino’s forensic detective is a fantasy figure — too young and too kinky for this kind of set-up. Except for 50 Cent, who can’t act a smidge, the actors are game but the script is tired.